Archive for March, 2011

Alrighty then. Just returned from a fabulous seminar sponsored by Kelby Training, “Photography & Photoshop CS5: From Focus to Finished.” The instructor Ben Willmore covered an amazing amount of information in five one-hour sessions. Some of the information is very helpful to composing dramatic Schutzhund images and finishing them in Photoshop, while other parts of the seminar were more directed at landscape and architects photos. There is way too much to cover in one blog post. Ben offered 42 tips on composition alone!! Going forward, I am going to intertwine what I learned from Ben into my posts. I will let you know when a tip or technique covered is from Ben and how it might apply to the Art of Schutzhund Photography. I am jazzed up and recharged!  So, let’s get to it!

Some of the fastest action in Schutzhund is just after the dog gets the bite (escape, re-attack, long bite) and the helper drives the dog and then puts the dog in the pocket. It also can be a perilous time to shoot unless you know what you’re shooting and have a plan in mind. The next couple of posts will look at driving the dog, followed by a post on putting the dog in the pocket. As mentioned in previous posts, it really pays to know how the action will occur. Different helpers catch and drive dogs differently. Watch how the helper moves and where he ends up. In most cases, especially in trials, helpers move approximately the same way for all the dogs. Watch for the judge and where h/she ends up so your view isn’t blocked.

Once you know the helper’s movements, you can select the best vantage point to get the best shots. You might try photographing at an angle to the action or straight on. Try different positions with respect to height; this is, shooting from a standing, sitting, or kneeling positions. Try different focal lengths to zoom into the action or to get a broader view. It might be fun to try a wide angle or fish eye lens sometime. Ben emphasized that being unpredictable and shooting from unusual perspectives can really pay off. The following are some specific composition tips that were covered in the seminar. As noted some have been covered in past posts, some not.

One of the most valuable take aways from the seminar for me was the reminder that many problems can be avoided by paying attention to composition, exposure and focus during the photo shoot, rather than relying on photo editing software to fix problems. One problem that can be avoided (most of the time) is busy and distracting backgrounds. See photos below:

Notice how the background in the top image is cluttered and distracts from the action. The bottom image is better, but the banners on the fence are distracting, which brings up another point. Text in a photo is always read, which draws the viewer’s eyes away from subject of the photo. The choices are to avoid text in the photo or use the text an important composition element. In addition, notice how the helper’s head blends into the image of the dog’s eyes on the banner. This violates the rule of no merging. As Ben advised, “Try not let the subject visually merge with elements in the background. Often a simple change of angle can prevent this.” Good point!

This next photo is another example of a busy background. Okay, it’s not a drive photo, but but it is an excellent example of how horizontal lines can impact the image. Notice in the image on the top the people in background doing what spectators do at trials. Totally unrelated to the action and very distracting, plus there’s an orphan leg not attached to anyone in particular. Also notice where the ground meets the tree line and at the find blind, especially the gravel, seems off kilter or at an angle? The bottom photo is cropped to fix these problems, which could have been avoided by zooming in tighter and holding the camera straighter. These images also illustrate the importance of aligning the edge of an object that appears near the edge of the image frame. Ben notes,”This gives the eye a natural connection between the unnatural rectangular frame and the image, which makes the two feel more about home together. Otherwise, the edge of the frame often acts like a knife abruptly cutting off the edge of objects, which can cause visual tension.”

These last images illustrate the idea of not allowing the subject in the photo, in this case the helper driving the dog, run off the page or smack into a visual wall that is the side of the image frame. Make sure to leave some room to give them some place to go (see top image), which further enhances the idea of movement. Did you notice the top of the image, where the stick is almost merging into the top edge? I didn’t notice it before, but from what I learned at the seminar, it would have been better to give the stick at little more breathing room at the top. Also, the horizontal line of where the grass meets the foliage is a little crooked. That’s because the field was at a incline, but a little adjustment there might help, too.

While it often is more visually appealing to put the subject a bit off center (see Rule of Thirds post), the bottom image shows an exception to this general rule. This image is shot front on so the direction the helper is driving the dog is towards the viewer. The image is cropped to emphasize this feature and uses the foliage to frame the action.

Part two of Composing the Shot: Driving the Dog will be published later this week.  Until then – happy shooting!

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Before continuing with the series on composing Schutzhund photos, I thought you might enjoy seeing a few of the best images from this past weekend’s photo shoot at the 2011 SE Regionals. The competition was held at Lake Valley Schutzhund Club in Knoxville, Tennessee. I took more than 1,300 images, and I am just now starting to edit them. The best photos came from the protection routines. It was later in the day, with the sun behind me. As a result, the lighting was much better than in the morning, when the field glistened in the morning sun. Pretty, but not easy shooting!

I used a Canon 70 – 300 mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM lens, which is great for bright sun. But, as I learned this weekend, this lens is not that great for zooming long distances. It is much better as a medium zoom lens, such as when you can get on the field and get up close and personal with the action. During trials, I recommend a more powerful zoom, such as a Canon EF 100 -400 mm f/4.5 -5.6 L IS USM. In my experience, however, this lens tends to focus on the brightest spot in the image, which is not always where the action is – aka the dog! My favorite lens for Schutzhund is the Canon EF 70 -200 mm f/2.8 L IS USM. Great focus, great zoom capabilities, but like the 70 -300 mm is better for medium range. With the larger, heavier lenses, a tripod or monopod is definitely a help.

As one image shows, there were a couple of other photographers snapping away.

Next post will get back to the drive after the escape bite.

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Like the Hold and Bark exercise, the Escape Bite has certain advantages, which make getting a great shot both easier and harder. Easier, because the dog starts from a set position, and the track the dog runs to capture the helper is well defined and predictable. Harder, because the action is quick, and it is very easy to miss the shot or have it go out of focus. Even so, the Escape Bite affords many different angles and perspectives from which to shoot and thus offers real opportunities to be creative. The slide show above illustrates some of these angles and perspectives.

One of my favorite positions is at the top (or bottom) of the field, looking back at an angle to the Find Blind and the set up for the Escape Bite. From here, it is easy to track the dog and capture the moment the dog strikes the sleeve. It also can be a great position to photograph the helper turning to drive the dog (the topic of the next post). Another reason I like this position is the view is not usually blocked as the judge and other spectators hang back a bit to the left of the Find Blind.

If you can get on the field and avoid your view getting blocked, photographing from the other side affords a different look or try getting low and photographing from the dog’s perspective. There is one photo in the slide show of a Belgian Malinois that illustrates this perspective. The lens follows the line of the dog’s back to the helper as the dog is anticipating the helper moving, but the focus in on the dog.

Whatever position you take up, keep the lens on the dog, preferably mid-body to head, and be ready for action. If you focus too far back on the dog, the part of the image showing the helper and dog engaging may be fuzzy. Zooming in for a tighter shot can help with this. You may have to decide if you’re interested in the helper’s face / head or just in the dog and the sleeve, however, as it is easy to cut off the helper’s head if you are zoomed in too close. It is something that takes practice to figure out what is the right focal length to get the composition that most interests you.

Definitely, use the burst mode if you have it, but remember, some photos in the series will likely be out of focus so try to time the burst series so the images that will be most in focus will be the photos you want.  Also try varying the shutter speed for a different look. It also is a good idea to use a fast card so images write quickly and the burst shooting is not interrupted or slowed down while your camera is trying to keep up with the action.

Next up: Photographing the drive out of the Escape Bite and the helper putting the dog in the pocket.

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